10.07.2014 | Halya Coynash

The Savchenko Case shows Russia in tandem with militants


Should anybody have doubted the close ties between the Russian authorities and pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, Nadiya Savchenko, a military officer taken prisoner and paraded as a ‘trophy’ by militants three weeks ago is now facing prosecution on dubious charges in Russia 

A Russian court is due on Thursday to consider an appeal by a Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko against her detention in a Russian SIZO [remand unit].  She is facing charges under Russian law after being abducted in Ukraine by Kremlin-backed militants.  The OSCE mission to Ukraine claims it has no mandate to intercede since this is outside Ukraine.  The point of such a mission can perhaps be questioned given the clear evidence here of close collaboration between the militants in eastern Ukraine and the Russian authorities.  

Savchenko was taken prisoner in the Luhansk oblast by militants from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic on June 17 or 18.  Two days later a video appeared of her being interrogated by the militants. She demonstrated courage during the interrogation and refused to provide the information the militants demanded.

It is not known when she was taken to Russia, but on July 2 a Russian court remanded her in custody until August 30.  TSN reports that she was questioned by “investigators from a special international crimes unit formed in haste because of events in Ukraine”  

The status of the militants who brought her across the border into Russia and passed her to the Russian authorities is unclear. This is of immediate relevance since the 33-year-old pilot was not on any international wanted list.  The appeal against her detention is, furthermore, to take place behind closed doors and it is reported that Savchenko has not been allowed to see Ukrainian lawyers or her family.

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on July 9 that charges had been laid against Savchenko for alleged “complicity in the group killing of two or more people carrying out official activities in a publicly hazardous manner for motives of political hatred”.

The investigators claim that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.

They also assert that Savchenko crossed the Russian border, without any documents, pretending to be a refugee.  They allege that she was initially detained to establish her identity. “After that it transpired that Savchenko is a suspect in a criminal case over the killing of Russian journalists. It is very important to note that this detention was carried out with strict adherence to Russian legislation.  The charges were laid in the presence of a lawyer and interpreter, and the Ukrainian embassy in Russia was immediately informed.”

Who the lawyer was is not clear, however Ukrainian lawyers representing Savchenko have not been allowed to see her which is certainly in breach of any civilized country’s legislation.

Protest from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry was immediate, with a statement pointing to the obvious cooperation between the militants who abducted Savchenko and the Russian authorities.  The statement was issued on July 8; the claim that Savchenko crossed the border pretending to be a refugee was made on July 9.  It lacks any credibility given the video from June 20 where she was definitely held captive by the Kremlin-backed militants.

Journalist Igor Kornelyuk and sound engineer Anton Voloshin died on June 17, after being caught in mortar fire not far from Luhansk. The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately asserted that they had come under fire in a place where there were no military targets.  The Ukrainian authorities were adamant that the military had been under attack from militants.  They also refuted the channel’s claim, and said that the journalists were in camouflage gear without any way of distinguishing them from the militants. President Petro Poroshenko ordered a full investigation which has yet to have produced a report. 

Savchenko was held captive by militants with every reason to give only their version of events from June 17 or the following day.  The Russian Investigative Committee has only now claimed that she was wanted in connection with the deaths before, as they allege, being ‘detained at the border’.  This is not the first time that Moscow is let down by the company they keep.  If they wanted a convincing story, they should have kept the militants from posting their ‘trophy’ online.  What Russia is hoping to achieve by this case is difficult to say, but certainly not that justice will be served.   

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